In which the blogger wonders once again what the point of an opening page might be. Who is it supposed to be speaking to, and what should it be designed to achieve?;
Astonishing X-Men #62, by Marjorie Liu, Gabriel Hernandez Walta et al
The first page of Astonishing X-Men #62 seems to have been crafted for the reader who's uncommonly patient, informed and undemanding. Patient, because the side suggests that the narrative captions relate to the events being shown without any hint of how or why. Informed, because Liu avoids identifying either the names or the motivations of Mystique and Sabertooth. Undemanding, because there's no hint of any plot-driving conflict to be seen beyond a minor and underplayed disagreement about kittens in the final panel. The presumption appears to be that super-people are so fascinating in themselves that their very existence compels our attention. Bad dreams, a room empty of much beyond screens showing what seems to be TV news, the awkwardly-phrased mystery of Iceman's hunger; the enigmas we're presented with appear mild and humdrum. Indeed, Liu and Walta even appear desperate to underplay the remarkableness of the mutants they're portraying. It's almost as if the story had been designed to modestly not call attention to itself, and that's what it succeeds in doing.
If Liu's script is, for all its undoubted craft, anaemic, then Walta's art is pleasantly unremarkable. His depiction of Tokyo and Mystique's progress through it lacks character or distinctiveness. Even the third panel's matter-of-fact suggestion of shape-changing seems to have been made as inconspicuous and uninteresting as possible. (The partially-obscuring presence of the caption there helps to diminish whatever interest the scene might offer.) As such, the only moment which isn't visually soporific is Sabertooth's baring of his fangs in the final frame. Yet even that lacks energy, and what might have been a dramatic shot is instead a mildly distracting one. Of course, it's hard to establish a super-villain as a seriously threatening proposition when he's having his kittens taken away from him. The very idea that Creed eats baby cats for lunch is a superficially attractive one, and yet all it does is emasculate him. After all, those three tiny felines make for a remarkably small and pathetically helpless meal for one of Marvel's most savage killers. To then have them scooped away, and with so little resistance being shown, is surely not the way to inform the reader of his character and the menace he poses. Even in establishing Mystique's authority over him, it leaves Creed seeming enervatingly subservient and unthreatening.
It appears that Liu believed that the juxtaposition of Drake's confessional "voice-over" and Mystique's everyday walkabout would prove compelling in itself. The reader, it seems, is expected to become involved in the mystery of how the two narratives relate to eachother. Yet anyone who doesn't know who these various characters are will most probably be alienated from the off. For it's only regular readers of the X-Books who'll have the background knowledge to make the sequence meaningful. Mysteriously, the issue's introductory text page makes no mention of Mystique or Sabertooth at all. Equally baffling, its explanation of why Iceman might be seeking counselling fails to mention his civilian identity. Confusion can only emerge for the neophyte when the captions of the story itself refer to "Bobby" rather than his mutant code-name. Why even have a text page when it offers so little assistance with the story it's designed to inform?
The beginning of a monthly book needn't involve a hysterical measure of world-threatening hype, and unfamiliar readers can certainly be intrigued by situations and characters they know nothing about. But this page's lack of visual distinctiveness, key information and, most deleteriously, liveliness does undermine the scene's appeal. For all that the art is careful and competent, and for all the undoubted craft that's evident in the script, this really isn't a particularly enticing introduction.
The marketplace is saturated with super-books. Some of them are excellent. Why would either the casual browser or the uncommitted consumer opt for Astonishing X-Men #62 on the evidence of this opening page?
Wolverine #3, by Paul Cornell, Alan Davis, Mark Farmer et al
There's no mention of the main character's names in Paul Cornell's script for the first side of Wolverine #3 either. But the book's text page has already done that. Both Logan and Fury are well-known even in the world beyond comics, and some might have been tempted to take that knowledge for granted. Yet the team behind Wolverine have made sure that the book is as clear, welcoming and involving as possible. That that clarity hasn't arrived at the cost of depth and detail is a mark of its creator's craft. As with the likes of Demon Knights and London Falling, it sees Cornell continuing to streamline his storytelling. Always working to create a maximum of effect with the least possible degree of show, he doesn't even reprise the Watcher's spectacular appearance from the previous issue's conclusion. It's been done, and done well, and now there's the rest of the story to be told. Instead, Cornell presents the necessary backstory in the form of a grand bout of bickering between super-spy and superhero. The opposite to redundant exposition, it ensures that the new reader's informed while the returnee learns something new about Logan and Fury's tempestuous relationship. As such, personalities are clearly defined while the scale of the emergency is established. More impressive yet, it's all wrapped up in a mere three panels, which frees up the final two frames for a new plot twist and a rather sinister page-turner
It's still a sequence which might have seemed static and uninvolving in the hands of a less accomplished artistic team. At worst, it might have ended up as nothing but a page of two shouting super-blokes, a mysterious knife-wielding woman and generic back alleys. But the dynamism of Alan Davis and Mark Farmer's collaboration capitalises on the potential of both Fury and Logan's testosterone-charged dispute and the enigmatic appearance of Victoria Frankenstein. Much of this is down to Davis's rarely-equalled ability to create physically distinctive and emotionally compelling characters. Some rely on the super-book's stock types, but Davis designs distinct individuals with their own particular frames and their own idiosyncratic body language. His super-people aren't objectivisied bubbles of muscle and fat, but fascinating human beings whose appearance transmits character rather than cliche. Even the more peripheral details of Davis and Farmer's art can be compelling. The suggestion of Wolverine's claws in the first panel's shadows, for example, is a smartly surreptitious way of foreshadowing future crises.
Accessible, distinctive and entertaining, the first page of Wolverine #3 shows one way to make an opening side matter.